North Korea’s strategic vision for 2022: focus on rural development
The 4th plenum: main points to remember
The 4th plenum of the 8th Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party met in Pyongyang for five days, from December 27 to December 31, 2021. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended the meeting in his capacity as secretary general of the Party and gave at least two great speeches. As in 2020 and 2021, this public appearance at a major event around the start of the New Year has replaced the hitherto usual New Year’s speech.
Regarding the formalities, it appears the North Korean leadership has learned lessons from what they might have viewed as past communication errors. Rather than providing the full texts of Kim Jong Un’s speeches, as was done at the 7th Party Congress in 2016, state media reported on them this year in the third person and only as rough summaries. . They omitted details on sensitive issues and thus made interpretation by outside observers more difficult. For example, readers of the state media were simply told that the leader “made extensive reference to the gaps and important lessons revealed in this year’s work and ways to address them.” We can assume that more details could be provided in the internal ideological education materials, but until they are disclosed, that’s all there is.
As far as we know, Kim Jong Un gave two speeches or reports at the 4th Plenum. Under the title “On the direction of the work of the Party and the State in 2022”, he summarized in a relatively standardized form the achievements of the past and outlined some priorities for the year to come. Its second report was more specific and focused entirely on rural development and agriculture: “Let us start a new great era in our style of socialist rural development.
The main lessons of the two speeches are easily summarized.
- There was no reference to foreign policy; neither to the relationship with the United States, nor to the relationship with South Korea. No new initiatives have been announced, but no new threats have been issued. No complaints were lodged regarding sanctions, military exercises or “hostile policies”.
- The army was only mentioned very briefly. No new weapons system has been announced, and there has been no threat of nuclear testing or ICBMs. That doesn’t mean none of them will take place in 2022. Given North Korea’s seemingly low position on the Biden administration’s priority list, such strategic weapons tests – which haven’t happened since 2017 – would be among the more obvious choices for Pyongyang. continue if management decides it needs more attention.
- There was no sign of further economic reforms or market-oriented liberalization. Rather, we find approaches and terminology that date back many years, if not decades. Retaining his position announced at the 8th Party Congress in January 2021, the North Korean leader seems determined to face the current situation by strengthening the role of the state, canceling previous reformist experiments and refocusing the economy on import substitution and the highest possible degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency. The term socialism / socialist (사회주의) appears 60 times in the related KCNA article, and Kim Jong Un is said to have praised “the power of collectivism” and the strict “discipline of the plan.”
- The most important and central topic of Kim Jong Un’s public appearances at the 4th Plenum was on “solving the problem of food, clothing and housing for the people”, especially development and agriculture. Although he promised an “improvement in the living conditions of the people” (인민 생활 향상) ten years ago at the start of his reign, the leader has not yet fulfilled this mission. His attention to this problem today could therefore be as much a reference to his own past as to current conditions and challenges. Earlier attempts in 2012 demonstrated a willingness to experiment with things such as Chinese-style land reform, smaller work teams, decentralization, and commercialization. In his speeches at the 4th Plenum, Kim Jong Un went in the opposite direction: farmers are supposed to be ideologically motivated, the state’s economic orientation in agriculture needs to be strengthened, and modernization modeled on the movement of farmers. three revolutions of the 1970s is supposed to make country life more attractive and productive. The silver bullet for increasing production will be science and technology, not a more effective incentive system.
The first speech: on the direction of the work of the party and the state in 2022